A Nose by Any Other Name
The truth is – I’ve never tanned well. I blame my Dad, and either the Welsh or Irish in us for the light skin, dark brown hair and contrasting funny reddish beards we sport. I’m very susceptible to sunburns. And I try to remember the sunscreen and wear hats, but I basically burn all summer until about late August, when my freckles are in full bloom and a barely perceptible golden hue appears.
It was around that time last year that I noticed an unusual spot on my face (acne notwithstanding). At first I put off getting it looked at, but during a routine check-up it, it was suggested that I get a biopsy for what may or may not have been a tiny growth on my nose. Now, I know the whole thing was professionally couched and said with all sorts of neutral words and passive verbs and, well, great common sense. In other words, it was suggested I do it clearly as a precaution against the very unlikely event I have a tiny melanoma because, as we all know, catching a melanoma pretty much kills it. Like taking care of a sniffle instead of letting it grow into double pneumonia.
As I said, I know it was professionally couched, but an hour or so – maybe less – after leaving the doctor’s office whatever he said to me in that nice, calm, professional manner had boiled down to three words: melanoma, biopsy, nose.
I didn’t dwell on it, but, admittedly, those three words, in that order, were readily available in my head whenever it wasn’t occupied by other things. Like, finish a brief, a phone call, a client interview, answer a couple of emails, take a breath, grab a cup of coffee and – oh, yeah, melanoma, biopsy, nose.
The only way to excise this three-word inner-voice was to, of course, have the biopsy and take care of the thing. Put it to rest. Step one was schedule the biopsy. That I did with slightly more than a minimum of procrastination. I called, scheduled, it was weeks off. I didn’t give it much of a second thought.
Not being a rush job – by the time I called, I half-expected the office assistant to say, “Oh, yes, Mr. Starcevic, I have the note from your doctor … oh, ah … what are you doing right now?” – ‘the let’s do this biopsy in about four weeks’ was somewhat reassuring.
For about a day. That’s about how long it took before the relative relief of making the appointment was replaced by a general unease about the procedure itself – the biopsy. On my nose. Because I like my nose – we’ve come this far together. And although a biopsy on the nose may procedurally be the same as one on the shoulder or lower back, it’s a whole lot more noticeable. Even though I knew I was never going to have a career as a nose model anyway, I was still worried.
That’s when I made my mistake. A mistake I write about – right here – on this blog – ALL the time: I asked friends about biopsies – and of course they were friends who were not dermatologists. With all the awareness of the sun and melanoma, the world is full of people who’ve had biopsies. Everyone knows someone. I am no exception.
I asked, I got responses, and I started waking up at 4:30 am worried about those responses. I, better than most, should know that no one shares stories about routine matters, medical or otherwise. Because routine stories, medical, Facebook news-feed, or otherwise, just aren’t stories. Not entertaining stories worth re-telling. They’re boring. No one ever shared a drink over the story of a routine physical where everything was fine. “Biopsy leaves a terrible scar,” is what I heard. “Well at least you’ll have a cool, manly scar on your face that you can use as part of a war story,” was another one.
So, I got a few horror stories. I went from apprehensive to fully expecting to end up like the World War I vet Jack Hutson in Boardwalk Empire. The guy with the face prosthesis.
Once this image was embedded in my head it wouldn’t go away. Even when other friends told me that biopsies were … nothing. “Easy,” “Ah, don’t worry,” stuff like that, all sincerely given, all rolled right off me. Because … Jack Hutson. I got sucked up into this, I freely admit that.
I was so sucked in, in fact, that I even postponed the procedure for a “hot date” that had come up on my schedule…basically looking for any excuse not to go through with it. And I actually considered rescheduling for a second hot date. In fact, I was talking to people about it up to the minute I walked through the doctor’s office door and into the waiting room. I finally walked in, checked out a table of magazines – which of course had divorce on all the covers – sat for two minutes, then …
. . . went in and five minutes later, it was over. A pin prick, a slight burn, a tiny bandage, and out. Done over. Quickly followed by what the doctor clearly expected – it was nothing. And, no awful World War I or Phantom of the Opera-type scar came of it.
All that worry, all the time spent talking to friends about it that would have been much better spent talking about cool, friend things.
Anyone who’s read any of my blog pieces over the last nine months or so will immediately recognize this pattern. I recognized it early on – it didn’t make it any easier to deal with.
It’s what I see every day in my practice. I tell clients what to expect, how the process work, all that and more. Sometimes it holds, sometimes they come back with tales of horror from friends and family who have been through their own divorces, (again, a story about a mediation or collaborative divorce or even an uncomplicated court proceeding isn’t a story) and we start all over again.
My nose has taught me a lot. Now, I recognize how this happens and how in some ways it’s debilitating to some degree. Client’s can’t help it; I couldn’t help it either. The only thing I can do is inform my clients, keep them informed, and recognize when fear is driving the process. And I’m pretty sure my practice will be better for all the worrying. Another lesson learned.
Oh, and by the way, have your skin checked. Regularly.